LOOSE ENDS, a miniseries from Image Comics, is a Southern Crime Romance following Sonny Gibson and Cheri Sanchez, two small town lovers with a whole heap of trouble. With a beautiful and gritty color pallet, as well as a harsh, nuanced plot, this creative team has a long-time success on their hands.
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America has mythologized organized crime. It enamors viewers. Shows like BREAKING BAD and SONS OF ANARCHY receive countless season renewals, all because of their brilliant portrayal of criminal protagonists. It only makes sense. For the typical reader, we will never fully understand or experience the true facets of criminal lifestyle. However, something has always bothered me about these criminal dramas. In attempting to paint an empathetic character, writers do not fully explore the crime. They glorify it, painting it with bright, exciting colors. Your favorite character may die, but they die gloriously, for the sake of their criminal family. Very rarely do I see a criminal narrative investigate the underlying tension, paranoia, and heartache of a real criminal lifestyle. Thankfully, Image Comics’ LOOSE ENDS brings a new perspective into this dialogue.

Written by Jason Latour, drawn by Chris Brunner, and color by Rico Renzi, LOOSE ENDS is a self-proclaimed “Southern crime romance.” In the pages of this four issue mini-series, Latour openly grapples with a narrative that took ten years to write. Collected in a new trade paperback, LOOSE ENDS is a neon-infused drug run across the American South. Gritty and realistic best describe LOOSE ENDS, putting it in stark contrast to the bright, chemical-washed art style. Easy miles don’t fill the road ahead, though, and narrative speed bumps do keep LOOSE ENDS from being all it can be. Spoilers ahead.

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When the Lights Go Down in the City

Loose Ends
Courtesy of Image Comics

LOOSE ENDS follows Sonny Gibson, a former US soldier. While stationed in Baghdad with Reggie Butler, the pair becomes involved in a drug running ring run by the Colonel. After their supplier, Nu-Pac, dies in a car bombing, the government rewards the heroes for “stopping the ring.” Years later, Sonny retires. He spends his nights wasted in his camper, hassled by Reggie for “one more job.” You see, Sonny left that life behind and lost out on the Colonel’s money. After coming stateside, Rej, however, used his connection to the Colonel to hit it big with American drug lords. This new job would see Sonny transporting heroin to South Florida for a Cuban cartel. Though hesitant at first, Sonny agrees. So begins his drug-fueled adventure to the American Southeast.

Sonny didn’t account for Cheri Sanchez. Before setting out, Sonny makes one last payment to Kim, his college sweetheart and the mother of his son. Kim works as a bartender at Bobbi’s Hideaway, a dive off the highway. Cheri also works there. I have to mention that these opening moments grow rather mature and dark. After Sonny tells Kim about his new run, Kim punches him. Heading to the bathroom, Sonny finds two of his friends attempting to rape Cheri. In the ensuing chaos, a stray bullet kills Kim, and Cheri kills Sonny’s former friends. With three deaths on their hands, Cheri joins Sonny in his race to South Florida.

Though this may seem like spoiler city, almost all of this happens within LOOSE ENDS’ first chapter. A high-speed romp follows, as two rogue police officers capture Reggie and enlist him in stopping a drug-lord. Rej’s and Sonny’s storylines eventually collide, ending in an explosion of gunfire and intrigue that only amplifies the intensity that came before.

Art of Storytelling

Loose Ends
Courtesy of Image Comics

LOOSE ENDS excels visually. The balance struck by this creative team is astounding, and I firmly believe that LOOSE ENDS could only work as a comic book. Chris Brunner’s pencils constantly shift across the page. In one panel, they can be highly frenetic and messy, with body proportions exaggerating in a highly surreal dance. In others, the art can be almost painterly, with crisp, clean lines and a brilliant use of shading.

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Typically, this inconsistency poses problems. It feels amateurish or lazy. Here it works because it ties into the narrative flow. These artistic shifts illuminate events. Flashbacks have the crisp lines of more typical comic books, while present scenes dip into chaotic penciling and heavy black shading. Out of these shifts, the most intriguingly beautiful and surreal artistic decisions tie into the drug use.

I have to give joint praise to Chris Brunner and Rico Renzi. Their combined pencils and colors paint a neon haze across the page whenever the characters fall under the influence. The world twists around them and falls into cool, cartoonish shades of blue and purple. Symbols and images float about their heads, and their own body contorts into twisted, otherworldly creations. Brunner and Renzi paint a perfectly clear image of the mental effects of drug use, creating these surrealist landscapes around our characters throughout the story.

Though beautiful, the artists don’t glorify the act. In one instance, Sonny heavily drugs himself. As the world fades to purple, a skull floats over his head in a neon rainbow as he contorts in a public toilet stall. He looks twisted, uncomfortable, and even though he sees only beauty, it is clearly a temporary escape.

Cross-Country Road Trip

I would tell you to buy LOOSE ENDS on the sole merits of its artistic achievement, at least if you are over the age of eighteen. The heavy drug use, as well as the overt visual and referenced sexual moments in the story, makes LOOSE ENDS very adult fare. However, its narrative truly stands out. As I mentioned in the opening, this story really drives home the grittiness of criminal lifestyle. This isn’t a particularly fun story, and it shouldn’t be. There are several calm moments in the narrative, where Sonny and Cheri try to bond, but these are undercut by drug use, sex, or silence. On average, the intensity dial is set to eleven, with bright parties, violent flashbacks of Reggie’s traumatic childhood, and dark dialogue.

In the end, I feel like LOOSE ENDS needed one more issue. The story just didn’t feel finished, ending with more questions than answers. The mysteries surrounding the Colonel are never fully explored. Sonny’s son is mentioned at the start, then is never seen or heard from again. Cheri never completes a full character arc. Most importantly, Latour places a large emphasis on Sonny’s relationship with Cheri, a near stranger, but much of that intervening time is lost for the sake of the intense action. I wanted more time with the characters alone together, in dialogue. Looking back on this story, Sonny barely speaks to Cheri outside of the first issue. So much empathy and humanity are lost without this focus, and it distracts from the brilliant highs of this plot.

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Sonny and Cher(i): The Cast

Loose Ends
Courtesy of Image Comics

Looking into characterization, LOOSE ENDS has a strong and diverse cast of characters. However, one of the most interesting characters, Cheri Sanchez, is underutilized. Looking back on the story, this makes a lot of sense. Her connection to Sonny is wrought through a haze. She survived nearly being raped, and her further appearances in the story have her dosed on some kind of drug. Cheri has a story purpose, and realistically, she makes a lot of sense. She dissociates from the world around her, and her “romance” with Sonny is based on mutual attraction but little emotion.

My biggest issue with Cheri’s underutilization is that she barely speaks. Her dialogue is relegated to minor murmurs to Sonny. This makes sense with her state of mind, but she has no development. While several questions remain unanswered surrounding Reggie and Sonny, their arcs are mostly complete. Cheri never gets this exploration. She ends this story broken. Latour signals at hope ahead, but Cheri deserves more page time to grapple with her traumas. Even if only through drug-fueled hallucinations, I feel that much of Cheri’s character suffers because she doesn’t get a chance to own her emotions or narrative. This woman controls each of LOOSE ENDS’ beautiful covers, but she never takes control of Latour’s story.

Our protagonist, Sonny, receives brilliant characterization. It isn’t necessarily groundbreaking, but I did appreciate the time given to his start in crime. His overall motivations for LOOSE ENDS aren’t particularly clear, but we know how he got here. Reggie shines by the end of the story, earning a depth I didn’t expect. Rej’s story is almost more compelling, with underlying traumas helping to motivate his present actions further.

Final Thoughts: LOOSE ENDS TPB

LOOSE ENDS is a beautiful, neon-infused trip through the backwoods of American criminal life. It is fast, adrenaline-fueled, and truly digs into the heart of what a crime thriller should be. In many ways, it demonizes the actions. It says, “crime is bad,” but it never once says criminals are bad. It focuses on the true hearts, fears, and motivations of two career criminals, who only ended up where they are from lack of options. I still find Cheri’s role didn’t receive its proper examination but her character makes sense and develops intrigue in the midst of this bullet-riddled chaos. While I wanted more from her writing, her disassociation is one of the expressions of trauma that hardly makes an appearance in storytelling.

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Should you buy the LOOSE ENDS TPB? Yes. I came into this story expecting very little. The concept of “Southern crime romance” didn’t wholly appeal to me, and stories like SONS OF ANARCHY have a lot of ground to cover to draw my interest. Despite its failings, LOOSE ENDS is a visually and intellectually beautiful story that captures the extreme highs and lows of Sonny Gibson’s life. LOOSE ENDS is enlightening, a treat for the eyes, and a testament to the challenges of a writer.

Seriously, if you do pick this volume up, be sure to take a look at Jason Latour’s afterward, which focuses on his ten-year struggle to write LOOSE ENDS.

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